With fall harvest winding down in many areas, strip-tillers have been vigilantly checking yield monitors (calibrated, I hope) and thinking about the next phase of field operations.
But especially during the last few years, more are steering our conversation toward other areas of their operation that have allowed them to maintain or increase overall profitability during an extended time of low corn and soybean prices.
During a recent visit to Rock Creek, Minn., farmer Jon Stevens’ farm, he highlighted the importance of reinvesting in cattle to complement his 700-acre row crop operation not only as a way to further improve soil health, but also because it makes economic sense.
He outlined the 3Cs of his system that form the foundation of his farm management. “We’ve seen the proof that cover crops, cattle and crop rotation are where financial investment is going to provide the most return and how we’re going to stay profitable,” Stevens says.
Trent Sanderson, a no-tiller and strip-tiller in Clare, Ill., recently talked about their farm’s commitment to transitioning acres to organic practices, along with a burgeoning pork and beef business.
“We didn’t forward sell any grain this year until mid-October because there was no opportunity to have any kind of profitability for the rest of the year,” he says. “We do have a direct marketing business that we sell pork and beef off of our farm direct to consumers.
“That has increased exponentially since April and we are completely sold out of inventory. We had more animals going into butcher at the end of October, and those were all spoken for and quarters and halves are already on the wait list for 2021.”
At this year’s National Strip-Tillage Conference, Osage, Iowa, strip-tiller Wayne Fredericks outlined several economic trends that he says farmers need to be aware of not only today, but in the future. Here are few direct thoughts he shared during his presentation.
1. Elevating the discussion on the value of carbon can affect land sales. “I talked to a realtor about this and he thinks in the next decade, we might be able to have a soil health score that can be part of the marketing of farmland,” Fredericks says. “This could reflect very well, economically, on these improved, more resilient farms and add some true value to that work and effort.”
2. Reimagining rental agreements. “Imagine if all of our landowners understood the value of carbon and soil organic matter,” Fredericks says. “The simple question that they would ask of their tenant would be ‘Is the organic matter level going up or down on my farm?’ If it’s going up, you’re doing something right. If it’s going down, we need to have a talk and maybe I need to be part of this.”
3. Broadening Crop Insurance Discounts. “You can take two farms — a very resilient operation like ours with a 200-bushel actual production history (APH),” Fredericks says, “and compare it to a fully conventional farm with a 200-bushel APH. And on that bell curve, that conventional farm is going to be more of a more risk for the crop insurance industry because those operations are less tolerant of events like drought or excessive moisture.”
As you start looking forward to 2021 and beyond, be prepared to do what strip-tillers tend to do best — invest in opportunity and adapt to change.